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Originally published Thursday, October 6, 2011 at 3:03 PM

Movie review

'Restless': the young and the death-obsessed

A movie review of "Restless," Gus Van Sant's surprisingly lightweight, Portland-based youth drama starring Henry Hopper (son of Dennis) as a death-obsessed orphan who becomes attached to a terminally ill girl (Mia Wasikowska).

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

'Restless,' with Henry Hopper, Mia Wasikowska, Ryo Kase. Directed by Gus Van Sant, from a screenplay by Jason Lew. 91 minutes. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief sensuality. Meridian.

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"Sorry for your loss" feels like such an inadequate response to death. Yet, for lack of something better, you probably find yourself falling back on it at funerals and memorial services and on sympathy cards.

Gus Van Sant and composer Danny Elfman even turn it into a song in Van Sant's surprisingly lightweight new Portland-based youth drama, "Restless."

The movie is partly an exploration of the feelings that one young couple share as they try to cope with mortality as well as intimations of something else. A ghost (Ryo Kase) provides advice, though he isn't always visible or reliable.

Enoch (Henry Hopper) and Annabel (Mia Wasikowska) both have solid reasons for being obsessed with death. Enoch lost his parents during a trip to Seattle that included a collision with a drunken driver. Annabel has terminal cancer and three months to live.

They connect, like the title characters in "Harold and Maude," by crashing strangers' funerals, making the most of the little time they have together and "studying the world we live in" (including Annabel's obsession with birds).

They're also on the run from a funeral director who suspects they're up to no good. When they turn up at the local morgue, they defend themselves by claiming to be "just browsing."

Nearly plotless, "Restless" relies heavily on the casting of Hopper (son of Dennis) and the busy Wasikowska ("Jane Eyre," "Alice in Wonderland"), who generate a low-level buzz that turns out to be just right for this material.

Indeed, they often improve on Jason Lew's script, which doesn't always sustain the whimsical tone it establishes in the early scenes. The episodes with Enoch's domineering aunt (Jane Addams) are noticeably strained; so is a visit to a Halloween haunted house.

Co-produced by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, whose Hollywood track record includes the Oscar-sweeping "A Beautiful Mind," this low-budget movie takes its time filling in the backgrounds of its characters. That works for a while, but when it's over you may wonder if that's all there is.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com

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